A spirited defence of e-cigarettes


Lately, I’ve been posting a lot of negative stories about e-cigarettes and recent studies showing the vapour in e-cigs may not be as benign as c-cig companies would have you believe.

Here’s a column defending e-cigarettes from Helen Redmond, who’s written for Al Jazeera and AlterNet, defending e-cigs as a tool to help smokers quit. I thought it was pretty interesting, and to be fair, I thought it was worth writing about to get the other side of the e-cigarette argument.

In her column, Redmond writes:

Public health organizations and federal drug agencies including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) argue—despite no adequate evidence—that vaping is a “gateway” to tobacco for youth and that “e-cigarettes are no better than smoking regular cigarettes.” Numerous articles and well-respected, anti-smoking groups refer to e-cigarettes as “tobacco products,” which they clearly are not. The American Lung Association’s website contains a statement that declares: “Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are a popular new tobacco product that have still largely unknown public and individual health effects.” The word “scourge” is usually reserved for heroin panics, but it’s being used to describe electronic cigarettes. Michael Seilback, a vice president of the American Lung Association, said in a press release: “The scourge of e-cigarettes in New York has warranted action and Governor Cuomo’s proposal comprehensively tackles the proliferation of e-cigarettes in New York.”

But you know what the real scourge is?

The real scourge is that 480,000 people die in the United States from smoking-related illnesses every year. And electronic cigarettes—which are the best hope for hundreds of thousands of inveterate smokers to quit and stay alive, and which cause a tiny fraction of the harms of real cigarettes—are subject to a vicious and unrelenting campaign of lies and deception to convince smokers not to use them.

Are the enemies of vaping so implacably and irrationally opposed to it that they prefer smokers die rather than switch to e-cigarettes?

Redmond cites a study done last year in the UK that states e-cigs are about 95 percent safer than tobacco cigarettes  and she also cites some statistics about e-cigarettes helping smokers quit.

She writes:

Electronic cigarettes help smokers quit. That’s why millions of people are using them. The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) conducted a survey in 2015 of 19,823 its members; 87% reported they quit smoking entirely after starting to vape. In response to an article in Consumer Reports that rejected recommending the use of ECs, more than 1,300 readers responded saying that electronic cigarettes helped them kick the habit. And according to a new study published in the journal Addiction, using ECs led to an estimated 22,000 more people quitting tobacco every year. The researchers found: “E-cigarettes appear to be helping a significant number of smokers to stop who would not have done otherwise—not as many as some e-cigarette enthusiasts claim, but a substantial number nonetheless.”

Redmond also points out that nicotine by itself is not the chief toxin in cigarettes (many people don’t realize that nicotine is not the cause of lung cancer or COPD caused by cigarettes). But, she does concede that nicotine is physically addictive, but she argues that it can be used as a maintenance medication much like methadone.

Redmond’s column got a lot of positive feedback from e-cig users thanking her. I’ve learned not to waste a lot of energy fighting with e-cig supporters; their support gets a little too fanatical for me to deal with, and if e-cigs have genuinely gotten you off cigarettes, then I don’t blame you for loving them.

However, I would take two issues with Redmond’s column. First of all, I think it completely glossed over the growing problem of teens using e-cigs and the oftentime pretty blatant marketing of e-cigarettes to kids, using images of race car drivers and women’s panties to make e-cigs appear sophisticated and sexy. The use of e-cigarettes by teens has tripled over the past three years. This IS a serious issue and to me the biggest problem with e-cigs.

These are not 20- or 30-year smokers desperate to get off of cigarettes. These are 15- and 16-year-olds who have found a new, cheap and easy to purchase online delivery system to get physically addicted to nicotine to begin with. While nicotine is not the most dangerous component of cigarettes, it is incredibly addictive and I would just as soon kids not get addicted to it in any form. Nicotine addiction by its basic definition is a bad thing. There is nothing good that will come out of nicotine addiction, no matter the delivery system. And studies have shown that kids who start off using e-cigs do move on to cigarettes more than kids who never use them.

Secondly, I also think Redmond seriously overstates the effectiveness of e-cigs in getting people off cigarettes. Despite the anecdotal evidence you will read all over the Internet, they are not some kind of miracle cure. Simply put, they don’t work for everyone. I have also talked to a number of people who have told me they didn’t do anything for them. She cites statistics about people quitting smoking thanks to e-cigs, and I don’t question the numbers she quotes, but I can also cite studies stating they are not especially effective in helping people quit cigarettes. Here is another study on that same point. What data that is out there is mixed at best.

E-cigs definitely work for some people. For people who have tried cold turkey or patches and failed to quit, go ahead and try e-cigs, you have nothing to lose. But, please don’t sell them as some of miracle cure for cigarettes. They don’t even come close to being that. They are just another nicotine replacement system that people can try when all else has failed.

In all seriousness, for every person who at times with a certain level of fanaticism tells me that e-cigs have been a lifesaver, I would love to go back to those same people in a year or two and ask them if they are still off cigarettes.  I think it’d be interesting to see.

So, e-cigs are going to continue to be controversial. I’ve made my position clear that if adults want to use them to quit smoking, they should be available and they apparently really do help some people; I don’t care if they’re not 100 percent successful, if they help some people, that’s great. But, the feds absolutely must crack down on the marketing to kids and sales of e-cig products to kid, including online sales.

Going beyond cigarettes — starchy, sugary diet may raise risk of lung cancer


A very interesting story that really surprises me.

According to a study from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, researchers interviewed 1,900 people who had just been diagnosed with lung cancer and compared that with 2,400 other people without cancer who were interviewed. They asked questions about lifestyle choices, including smoking, and diet.

What they found is that people with “high glycemic index ” diets (lots of sugar and starch) were more likely to be in the lung cancer group than people with low glycemic diets. The link was stronger among people who didn’t smoke, they found.

From an NBC News article:

How can this happen? Doctors aren’t sure, but there’s a theory that high-glycemic foods stimulate the body to make insulin, which in turn affects the growth of cells via compounds called insulin-like growth factors or IGF. Cancer is the uncontrolled proliferation of cells, so it might be that the high-glycemic foods are fueling the growth of tiny tumors.

“IGFs have been shown to play a critical role in regulating cell proliferation and differentiation in cancer and there is evidence to suggest that IGFs are elevated in lung cancer patients,” Wu’s team wrote.

It’s a suspect in several types of cancer.

“Previous studies have investigated the association between glycemic index, and the related measure glycemic load, and a variety of cancers including colorectal, stomach, pancreas, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, and thyroid but these studies are limited and results have been largely inconclusive,” the researchers wrote.

This study is not conclusive, either. For one thing, the researchers asked their volunteers to remember what they ate. For another, it’s an association. People who eat high-glycemic foods may also do something else that also raises their risk of cancer. And this particular study focused only on non-Hispanic white people.

It’s important to keep in mind that about 15 percent of the people who get lung cancer are people who never smoked, and about 20 percent of women who get lung cancer never smoked. Secondhand smoke might be a factor, but so is genetics likely and possibly diet, according to this survey.

I don’t really know what low glycemic versus high glycemic entails, so here is a list included in the article:

According to the American Diabetes Association, low-glycemic foods include:

  • 100 percent stone-ground whole wheat or pumpernickel bread
  • Oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut), oat bran, muesli
  • Pasta, converted rice, barley, bulgar
  • Sweet potato, corn, yam, lima/butter beans, peas, legumes and lentils
  • Most fruits, non-starchy vegetables and carrots

Medium glycemic index foods include:

  • Whole wheat, rye and pita bread
  • Quick oats
  • Brown, wild or basmati rice, couscous

High glycemic index foods include:

  • White bread, including bagels

  • Corn flakes, puffed rice, bran flakes, instant oatmeal

  • Shortgrain white rice, rice pasta, macaroni and cheese from mix

  • Russet potato, pumpkin

  • Pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, saltine crackers

  • melons and pineapple

Oh, good, I do like baked potatoes, so that’s the only high glycemic food I each much of on this list.


“Catmageddon” — The Truth Campaign’s latest cute campaign

Truth ad

You’ve probably no doubt by now seen the Truth Campaign’s newest Catmageddon commercial.

Basically, the point is — something that doesn’t get talked a lot, not even by me — that secondhand smoke is not only bad for smokers’ kids, it’s bad for their pets. No cats, no more cute cat videos on YouTube.

Several studies have shown that secondhand smoke can cause lung and other cancers in dogs, cats and other pets. According to the Truth Campaign ads, cats and dogs are twice as likely to develop cancer if their owners are smokers.

The Truth Campaign followed up the Catmageddon commercial with a commercial about secondhand smoke and dogs. The funniest commercial of them is all is about a bunch of cats that hold a wild party when their owner is away. That one is just on YouTube, I think. It’s too long of a commercial for TV.  I just had to post something just to get this longer commercial out there.

Just part of the Truth Campaign’s continuing creative take on trying to get the message across to young people about the dangers of smoking. It’s working; in fact it’s successful beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. Teen smoking has plummeted from 30 percent in the 1990s to less than 10 percent today (the rise of e-cigarettes have a lot to do with that, too.)

Period smoking in “Bridge of Spies”

bridge of spies smoking 2
Mark Ryland in “Bridge of Spies,” playing Soviet agent Rudolf Abel. Abel died of lung cancer in his 60s.

I wrote a few weeks ago how there was virtually no smoking whatsoever in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E,” which is set in 1963, an era in which the majority of males smoked.

“Bridge of Spies,” also a period piece taking place from 1957 to 1961,  is a PG-13 rated film. In watching it this week, I noticed it did have smoking in it, though it wasn’t what I would call “pervasive” smoking. Was it more than necessary? Yeah, maybe.

Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and head of the CIA Allen Dulles are both depicted in the movie smoking. Abel, while he is in prison, asks for and receives a pack of cigarettes from his attorney, played by Tom Hanks. What is interesting about one scene between Hanks and Ryland, Ryland holds a cigarette the whole time, but never actually takes a smoke. He holds a burning cigarette and flicks ashes, but doesn’t actually smoke it.

Meanwhile Dulles spends a short scene smoking a pipe. (I think some KGB guy might have smoked in the movie, too. I can’t remember.)

bridge of spies smoking with inset
Mark Ryland, left, the real Rudolf Abel (inset).

The thing is, historically, both Abel and Dulles were smokers. In fact, the actor playing Abel (Mark Rylance, he won the award for Best Supporting Actor) actually did a remarkable job of mimicking exactly how Abel held his cigarette. Check out the photo I posted from the film, with the inset of the real Rudolph Abel. Dulles was also well-known for always smoking a pipe.

allen dulles
Allen Dulles in “Bridge of Spies,” at left, and in real life, at right.

Did seeing smoking in a PG-13 film bother me? A bit, I guess, but I have to concede that the movie was trying to be historically accurate, and in order to be historically accurate, it would be a bit awkward to have no smoking in the early 1960s. I give Steven Spielberg credit for not going overboard with the depictions of smoking. The truth of it is, in 1960, the majority of males did smoke. That’s a fact, and it’s certainly historically accurate to show people in that era smoking. I certainly didn’t think the smoking in the movie was what I would call “pervasive.” And the MPAA has loopholes for the R rating if smoking is shown in a historically accurate way and if it is not, in the MPAA’s words, “pervasive.” There’s also two “fucks” in “Bridge of Spies.” Like smoking, the F-bomb, as long as you’re not describing the sex act (A really silly rule, I know), will not trigger an R rating if it not “pervasive.”

Do I think it would have lessened the film if Spielberg had eliminated the smoking? Not really. People might have pointed out the inaccuracy of showing Dulles without a pipe. But, to be fair, despite, the PG-13 rating, it was a very adult film, slow, talky, no explosions or CGI and was definitely not marketed to teens.

Anyway, I was really struck how this movie differed from “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in how it treated smoking in the early 1960s.

As an aside, Rudolf Abel died of lung cancer in 1971 at the age of 68. Allen Dulles died of pneumonia at the age of 75.


Nicotine listed by experts as among the most addictive substances


… but not as one of the most damaging drugs on Earth, a big oversight on their part.

This is a story from the Conversation, based on a survey done with substance abuse experts about the most addictive substances on Earth … and nicotine makes the cut.

It’s important to always keep this in mind about while tobacco is so evil … the sheer physical addictiveness of nicotine. I’ve often said that it’s arguably as addictive as heroin … I can’t imagine there’s really a way to measure such a thing. I just base this on anecdotal information I gather from smokers about how incredibly grueling and physically difficult it is to quit smoking. People tell me it just wracks their bodies trying to quit.


I also believe, and some studies support this, that there is a genetic component to nicotine addiction, which could explain why some people are able to quit smoking while others simply … cannot … do … it. So, it’s not about willpower or that somehow some people are just stranger than others.

Anyway, the five most addictive substances mentioned int his article are:

  1. Heroin
  2. Alcohol
  3. Cocaine
  4. Barbiturates
  5. Nicotine

Now this story doesn’t talk about meth, which is another incredibly addictive drug, but it does mention that meth is closely related to cocaine, so I suppose the author is bundling them together.

One thing I don’t agree with this story: It states that heroin is the second-most damaging drug in the world in terms of damage to  users and society. Alcohol is listed as the most damaging with an estimated 3 million deaths caused worldwide in 2012. Cocaine is listed as the third-most damaging drug..

These experts claim that nicotine is the 12th most addictive drug on Earth — again, how that is measured, I don’t know. And I don’t have a clue what the other 11 substances would be; only four are mentioned in this story.

And they don’t even list it as the most damaging drugs, this is where I disagree … even though the current death toll from tobacco is 6 million people a year worldwide, double the death toll from the so-called No. 1 most damaging drug, alcohol. By 2030, an estimated 8 million people will die every year from tobacco-related diseases.

I won’t dismiss the staggering damage done by alcoholism, not only from alcohol-related diseases, but domestic violence, murders and DUI wrecks caused by drinking.  But, I would argue that nicotine does more damage to society than cocaine, heroin and barbiturates combined.  Here’s where I don’t agree with this story’s logic. In the U.S. at least, tobacco kills more people than alcohol, cocaine, heroin, barbiturates and other illegal drugs combined … like by a pretty sizable margin. Tobacco kills 440,000 people a year in the U.S., while alcohol kills about 110,000 people a year (and this includes DUIs) and Illegal drugs only kill about 20,000 people a year. So, we’re talking three times as many die as a result of tobacco than from alcohol and illegal drugs combined. I’m glad this article talked about nicotine, but I just can’t see how you can dismiss the damage done by nicotine and tobacco and this article did that a bit, in my opinion.

This doesn’t take into account other kinds of damage done to society, such as legal costs, incarceration, drug cartel violence, people losing their jobs and families, etc., from drug use and drinking. But, in terms of death and sheer health costs … nicotine and tobacco are No. 1, in my opinion.

Anyway, it was an interesting article even if i didn’t totally agree with it. Nicotine needs to be very much spoken in the same context as alcohol and illegal drugs as far as the damage done by it.


No more mother@#$%ing vapes on the mother@#$%ing plane


Hee, I stole that headline joke from this graphic.

I was shocked to find out that until this week, you could apparently use an e-cigarette on commercial flights (depending on the airline’s policies).

Not anymore. As of now, vaping is strictly prohibited on commercial flights. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the new rule Thursday. It will take effect within 30 days.

From The Hill:

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the final rule applies to all flights with both national and foreign airline carriers traveling to and from the United States.

“This final rule is important because it protects airline passengers from unwanted exposure to aerosol fumes that occur when electronic cigarettes are used onboard airplanes,” Foxx said in a news release. “The Department took a practical approach to eliminate any confusion between tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes by applying the same restrictions to both.”

Not even getting into the unwanted aerosols issue and the fact that vapour has formaldehyde and diacetyl in it, these things do on rare occasion actually blow up and catch fire. I seriously would not want to be on an airplane with an e-cigarette suddenly erupting into flames. (Jesus, here’s another story about an exploding e-cigarette. There’s literally like one or two or these stories every week.) Just the potential of one of these things erupting on a plane is reason enough all by itself to ban them on airplanes.


California Assembly approves bills to raise smoking age to 21 and to regulate e-cigs

california legislature

The California State Assembly approved a bill this week to raise the state’s smoking age from 18 to 21. A number of cities and states have been doing this the past couple of years. I’ve on record as having a somewhat mixed view of this — 18-year-olds can vote, join the military and go to jail, but they can’t buy a pack of cigarettes? I get it that they can’t buy alcohol, but alcohol is an intoxicant.

Again, there is a big, big push going on to raise the smoking age to 21, and most of the tobacco control movement is behind it. Maybe I’m behind the times on this.   Whether I’m fully on board or not, this movement is gaining steam. The bill would prohibit stores from selling cigarettes to young adults between 18 and 20, but there would be no penalties for young adults for possession or using tobacco. I’m cool with that.

From a San Jose Mercury News story:

Young Bay Area residents had mixed reactions to the legislation.

“I’ve been smoking ever since my mom put my first cigarette into my hands at age 13,” said Juan Parada, a hip hop musician taking a smoking break Thursday in downtown San Jose. Now, at 21, he declares, “I know that each time I take a puff, I am killing myself slowly.”

Yet Parada, who performs under the moniker “Young Manny,” said increasing the smoking age to 21 will have little effect.

“Kids will find a way to get what they want — like getting an older person to buy cigarettes for them,” he said. “That’s what I did. That’s what lots of young kids do, and it’s just not that difficult.”

I guess my response to that is … your mom was giving you cigarettes when you were 13? … no offense, dude, but your mom is an idiot.

E-cigarette bill

However, I was more intrigued by another bill that also passed the Assembly — regulating e-cigarettes. Much overdue, in my opinion. The bill would treat e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, it would ban e-cigarette use in all workplaces and would require people selling e-cigarettes to get a special licence. It also would make it a misdemeanor to sell or provide vaping products to people under the age of 21 (I like this part of it because vaping has absolutely skyrocketed among teens in the past three years.). It doesn’t sound that strict, but it’s a beginning.  We’re all still waiting for the Food and Drug Administration federal regulations for e-cigarettes, so states are having to pass their own regulations.

These bills had been proposed in earlier years but got bogged down to a large degree because of lobbying from the tobacco industry. I found a couple of stories about just how powerful the tobacco lobby is in California. You’d be surprised to hear that California actually has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the whole country — just 87 cents a pack. The Legislature simply will not pass a tobacco tax increase and tobacco industry lobbying is a reason why. California alone represents nearly 10 percent of the cigarette market in the entire country.

From a Sacramento Bee article:

Major tobacco companies Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds spent $1 million lobbying lawmakers in 2015. R.J. Reynolds also gave $240,000 to candidates and campaign committees last year, while Philip Morris contributed $1 million, including $200,000 to the California Republican Party.

Democrats who voted against or abstained on the tobacco measures received at least $26,000 from the two companies last year. In November and December, they gave a combined $35,000 to a ballot committee run by Assemblyman Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat who chairs the influential Governmental Organization Committee and voted against raising the smoking age to 21.

The two Republicans who voted for the bill, Catharine Baker of Dublin and David Hadley of Manhattan Beach, returned almost $11,000 in contributions from the tobacco companies over the summer.

In remarks to reporters after the vote, Assembly Speaker-elect Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, called the tobacco industry “a strong force in this town” and alluded to “threats involving electoral efforts” against legislators.

“It’s exceptionally aggressive,” Rendon said.

Both bills go to the State Senate, where they are expected to pass.

A ballot measure to raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 a pack is being proposed. The last similar ballot measure (Again, the Legislature won’t approve a cigarette tax measure, so it keeps getting punted to the voters)  in California failed by just a few thousand votes after Big Tobacco spent millions to defeat it. However, this ballot measure is being proposed for November, when voter turnout is expected to be very heavy, in part because there will be another ballot measure to legalize pot in California.

Toronto now considering a ban on chew at ballparks; MLB will send out nicotine patches to players and coaches

Rogers Centre

Toronto is the latest city considering a  chewing tobacco ban at all baseball parks, including the Rogers Centre.

New York is considering a similar ban at Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ Citi Field. Meanwhile, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston have already banned chew by players, coaches, umpires and fans (though I have to believe most of these ballparks weren’t allowing fans to chew because of the clean-up issues.) It appears chew will also be banned soon by the state of California at ballparks in San Diego, Oakland and Anaheim.

In response to chew being banned at as many as six Major League ballparks this summer, Major League Baseball is actually sending out “nicotine therapy” packages to teams for free. These packages will contain nicotine gun, patches and lozenges. This is included in the bottom of this story here. I thought it was pretty funny and could’ve been the lead of its own story.

Getting back to Toronto, the city’s health board is supposed to decide by March 21. From an article on the topic:

“While chewing tobacco has long been part of the culture for many professional sports, especially baseball, research shows that it has very real and serious health consequences,” City Councilor Joe Mihevic said in a release. “We need to be at the forefront of the movement to restrict its use and join with major cities such as L.A., Boston, and New York.”

These proposals are getting some resistance from ballplayers. Roughly about 30 percent of baseball players are believed to be tobacco chewers (versus about 7 percent of adult men in general and less than 1 percent of adult women.).

From the article:

“For some guys, it’s part of their playing routine,” Chicago Cubs catcher David Ross told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s hard to tell somebody what tools they can take to their work.”

Should Major League Baseball ban chewing tobacco? PHOTO: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Is this Jonny Gomes? I’m not sure. That’s Mike Napoli behind him.
Jake Peavy of the San Francisco Giants agrees. “It’s really, really hard to tell grown men who have been in this game and done it for a long time that they can’t do something that’s legal,” he said. “Old habits die hard.”

Josh Thole, Justin Smoak and Chris Colabello are counted among Toronto Blue Jays who regularly chew tobacco on the field.

Unofficial stats show that the number of players who still chew tobacco has decreased in recent years, from about one-half of players to one-third. Instead, ballparks have gotten into the habit of making chewing gum and sunflower seeds available as alternatives.

Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons quit two years ago, following the death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn of salivary gland cancer.

“I was a tobacco user for a lot of years. I’m not proud of that. I finally was able to quit. It’s a dirty, filthy habit,” Gibbons told the Toronto Star. “I wouldn’t want my kids doing it. You hope in some way, they can eliminate it and wipe it out.”

Chew being phased out; nicotine kits sent to teams

As Gibbons mentioned Tony Gwynn, it was Gwynn’s death a couple of years ago that provided much of the recent impetus to banning chew on the field. Gwynn was a longtime chewer who blamed his habit for his cancer.

Players were informed this week they will be facing chewing tobacco bans in as many as six stadiums this season and sent out the nicotine therapy packets to every team free of charge (Like guys making $15 million a year need freebies?)

From an AP story:

Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker was a big dipper for a long time. He’s cut back over the years, but still might pop in a pinch when games get tight.

“It’s a bad influence for the kids. Big time. I’ll say that. But also they’re adults, too, at the same time,” Baker said.

“We’ll see,” he said. “My daughter used to put water in my can and put it back in my truck. Or my son, he has lip check — ‘Get it out, Dad!'”

Local laws will prohibit the use of all tobacco products at Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park this year, meaning players, team personnel, umpires and fans. The letter advises the same ban will take effect at every California ballpark in December.

“I support it,” new Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think that the intentions are there, and there’s obviously going to be some resistance with players.”

“Like it or not, players are role models, and we have a platform as coaches and players. So if that’s the law, then we definitely support it,” he said.

Major League Baseball actually wants to ban chew on the field, but needs the cooperation of the Major League Players’ Association, which has so far not given its OK. Chewing tobacco use is expected to be part of the next contract being negotiated between MLB and the players.